Realizing that Metea Valley was bringing a five-game winning streak by an average of 5 points per game while averaging 70 points a contest into Friday's contest at Hinsdale Central, Red Devils coach Nick Latorre knew that a key for his team was not allowing the Mustangs to be in a position where they could tap into the confidence they had built up by winning tight games.
Using a 20-4 second-half run that turned a two-point game into a 46-28 lead, Hinsdale Central did just that in posting a 56-40 nonconference victory.
"We talked about how scrappy they were, how they hang around with teams and shoot it well," Latorre said. "So we wanted to get in a position where they weren't in the game at the end, and we made some big shots in the third quarter that really helped us."
The Mustangs (14-9), who had trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half, pulled within 26-24 when Justin Kuehn rattled in a 3-pointer two minutes into the third quarter. That was the signal for the Red Devils (16-6) to step on the gas, especially Matt Rafferty, who scored 12 points in the decisive run, while Ian Bunting added 5, including his second dunk of the night, and Chase Hamilton dropped in a 3-pointer.
"Coach talked about how tough they were and our goal was to match their toughness," Rafferty said. "(Bunting) was huge, he gave us momentum and got the crowd into it."
Rafferty was no slouch himself. He finished with 20 points, 18 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals in an all-around performance that Latorre is coming to expect from his 6-foot-7 junior center.
"He's very balanced, that's what he does, he really is a complete player," Latorre said. "The thing that people don't expect are the assists, but he's a really good passer."
In the end the Mustangs were done in by uncharacteristically poor shooting as they converted only 13 of their 49 field-goal attempts, with the rare exception the back-to-back 3-pointers that Nick Klepper dropped in over a 15-second second-quarter span that pulled Metea within 14-12 at the time.
They'd get no closer as Hinsdale Central opened a 24-14 lead before Marquell Oliver and Sam Hanson scored the final five points of the half to leave the Mustangs trailing 24-19 at the break.
"I told the guys I was very proud of their effort for four quarters, their fight, but the ball didn't go in tonight and we had to force some shots," said Metea coach Bob Vozza.